Green Day – Spark Arena May 13, 2017

At the main bridge of Holiday, Billie-Joe Armstrong screams for the lights in Spark Arena to go down, grabs a portable spotlight and strides onto the runway. “Auckland….Neeww Zeaaland!! Repeat after me!! “No Racism! No Sexism! No Homophobia!! The crowd dutifully responds before erupting into rapturous cheers.
To any sane person, these sentiments are just part of being a halfway decent human, but in 1980s Berkley California, they were the rallying cry of the counter culture; namely the socialist punk scene. They were rules that were proudly displayed on the wall of 924 Gilman Street, the all-ages venue where Green Day found their feet, only to be shunned by their own when they had the audacity to become pop punk sellouts.

The above is just one moment throughout the 2 ½ hour set where the counter culture spirit was truly alive in the sold-out arena, but this was tempered by cheesy, absurdly poppy moments. A man wearing a Pharaoh headdress and playing a more-hammed up than usual version of Careless Whisper, for example would be enough to make any punk purist turn up their patch jacket in disgust.

But it’s this tension between two extremes that makes Green Day more interesting than other Pop-punk bands. Most either aim for a comfortable in-between or oscillate wildly between the two styles, but Green Day takes a more complex approach. In true DIY fashion, they cut and paste Beatles melodies with a perchant for grandiose rock operas Peter Townshend would be proud of, throw on some Springsteen showmanship, and stitch it all together with some Ramones-eque speed and ethics ripped straight from The Clash.

What makes them even more interesting as a band performance-wise, is that these influences are never static- the upper hand is always something that is up for grabs, and tonight Springsteen’s relentless crowd-pleasing presence permeated the band and enthralled the inter-generational crowd.

With the exception of a few songs, Green Day made the wise move to steer clear of their latest songs, instead opting for a hodge-podge of hits that span their thirty-plus year career, resulting in a unrepentant, stomping ode to bubblegum punk. The energy between the three members is remarkable- Bassist Mike Dirnt-who looks like Krammer from Seinfield’s edgy cousin knew just when to jump to Tre Cool’s impeccably timed drums, who didn’t flinch as flames flared and fireworks exploded around him throughout the set. (I wish I could say the same about myself).

Frontman Bille Jo Armstrong gave a masterclass in stage craft and showmanship. Like Tinkerbell on her deathbed, he couldn’t get enough applause from the crowd, and it seemed like every few minutes he was encouraging the audience to cheer or do a call and response. He had boundless love for fans, inviting them to jump onstage and sing, play drums, even giving a girl his guitar before letting them crowdsurf off into the darkness.

There were occasional forays into wedding band territory- a medley of songs  that included Shout, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and Hey Jude– was cheesy as anything, but no one seemed to mind. It actually only added to my belief that Green Day has carved out a strangely logical place for themselves, where their punk roots and whizz-bang showbiz sensibilities don’t cancel each other out.

This doesn’t mean that there weren’t moments where this old cynic raised her eyebrows- I internally questioned how a 12,000 capacity arena branded by a telecommunications company could be described by Armstrong as “our own little private underground” but I found his sincerity disarming. After all, Green Day started out in a tiny club dedicated to DIY and inclusivity. It was this spirit that first attracted me to punk as a 16 year old in Hamilton, it was similar sentiments stenciled on the stairs leading up to Upsett Records, my local all-ages dive venue.

The fact that they have carried this ethos all the way to stages this big and not given a fuck about what people think of their sound, that is truly punk. At the risk of sounding pretentious, Green Day could be seen as a ‘Gateway Punk’ into the heavier musical aspects of the genre,but even if they aren’t the ideas and ethos Green Day are rallying behind need to be heard- and surely in a movement dedicated to inclusivity, this is the most important thing.

Kate Powell

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Flynn:

Green Day set list:

  1. Know Your Enemy
  2. Bang Bang
  3. Revolution Radio
  4. Holiday
  5. Letterbomb
  6. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
  7. Too Dumb To Die
  8. Welcome To Paradise
  9. Youngblood
  10. 2000 Light Years Away
  11. Long View
  12. Hitchin’ A Ride
  13. When I Come Around
  14. Waiting
  15. Minority
  16. Are We The Waiting
  17. St Jimmy
  18. Drum Solo/Knowledge (Operation Ivy cover)
  19. Basket Case
  20. She
  21. King For A Day (With Careless Whisper Sax Solo)
  22. Medley: Shout/Break On Through/Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life/(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction/Hey Jude
  23. Still Breathing
  24. Forever Now
  25. American Idiot
  26. Jesus Of Suburbia
  27. Ordinary World
  28. Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)